Information sought in slaying of woman
The family is using various means to keep the mysterious death in the public eye.
NILES -- A white plastic canister with a photo of Jane Ellen Kleese and the plea "Do you know who killed me?" sits among the hot cashews and liquor bottles at a local tavern.
Fliers with her picture are taped to bathroom mirrors in local restaurants, and canisters dot counters at several pizza shops, gas stations and convenient stores, reminders of the tragic death of the 35-year-old wife and mother of two.
Three years have passed since Kleese's death -- ruled a homicide -- and relatives want to make sure that her face, and the fact that her killer has yet to be caught, are not forgotten. They hope that the fliers distributed throughout the city and in Warren and Vienna might persuade individuals with any information about the case to come forward.
"We want to keep the case alive in people's minds, and they [fliers] certainly put pressure on the person who did it," said Tom Woodward, Kleese's only brother.
"I really strongly believe that the person who did this reads the fliers, and I believe that it bothers this person profoundly and this person wants it to go away. But it's not going to go away. Best thing for this person to do would be to come forward and confess so that the healing process can begin for a lot of people."
Woodward, of Youngstown, and Kleese's sisters, Janet Price of East Palestine, Cheryl Boor of Hubbard and Nada Valles of New York City, along with their mother, Jean Woodward of Niles, decided to print and distribute 500 fliers last summer. The family also established a change collection drive in conjunction with Farmer's National Bank to create a reward fund for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Kleese's death. Woodward said he did not know how much money was in the fund.
A Web site also has been developed that includes photos of Kleese and her family that they hope might help jog someone's memory. The address for that site is http://www.epiinternet.com/jane/. E-mails with information or questions can be sent to Jane@epohi.com.
"Our family wants to make an appeal to anyone who might have any information," said Tom Woodward. "Anyone who knows anything whatsover. No piece of information is insignificant when it comes to this. It may be a part of the larger puzzle. We believe that there is more than one person that knows the killer and knows what happened. We would like to appeal to their conscience.
"I believe that there aren't too many people that want to take something like this with them to their grave. And we want them to consider that maybe this [another homicide] could happen again. Do they really want the blood of someone else on their hands when they could have stopped it by their testimony and coming forward?"
Kleese, who lived on Cynthia Street, was found dead Jan. 23, 2002, at the bottom of her basement stairs by her children. It was initially believed to be an accident, but the Trumbull County Coroner's office later ruled that the cause of death was asphyxiation by assault, not the result of the fall, and the case was ruled a homicide. According to reports, she was seen dropping her 12-year-old daughter off at school at 8 a.m. and was found at 3:17 p.m. There were no signs of forced entry and nothing was taken, police said.
The fact that Kleese's children, Amber and Matthew, who was 16 at the time, have had to deal with discovering their mother's body is another reason Woodward hopes someone will come forward with pertinent information.
"There are still children who have been hurt profoundly and now have to live without their mother," he said. "Not to mention that they had the horrible misfortune of having to come home from school to find their mother dead at the bottom of the steps. That will never leave them. Her nieces were very close to her, too. She was like a mother to them and they're also hurting very badly through all this."
"The investigation continues," said Niles Police Chief Bruce Simeone. "The only thing I can say is that we're still following leads that come in. No suspects have been named yet."
Woodward said that although no suspects have been named, he's "98 to 99 percent certain who did it. But it's going to take whatever information people might have and then the police will have to put those pieces together.
"We certainly want to see human justice done in this case. We want to see a confession, a conviction and an incarceration. We're going to do everything humanly possible to bring that about, and I think we've been doing that. Not with an attitude of revenge, but wanting to see justice. Closure is a big thing."
Woodward, interim pastor at Calvary Independent Church in New Castle, Pa., admits that even though the death of his sister and the circumstances surrounding it have traumatized him, his faith has helped him to be patient. He added that everyone in the family has been dealing and healing at different speeds and in different ways.
"It's been three years and it could take 30 years [to solve], but there is going to be justice," he said.
Kleese's story drew national attention as a cover story in the November 2003 issue of the Citizens Against Homicide newsletter. A California-based nonprofit group distributes the newsletter nationwide.
Kleese's daughter declined to comment on how the family is doing or the status of the case, and a message left for Kleese's husband, James Kleese, was not returned.
Anyone with information about the case is urged to contact the Niles Police Department at (330) 652-9944.